Bears-Panthers preview Panthers ball

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Bears-Panthers preview Panthers ball

If something seems to be too good to be true, it often painfully is, particularly in apparent sports mismatches. USA vs. USSR hockey 1980. Michigan-Appalachian State. Tyson-Douglas.
Bears 2012 defense vs. 2012 Cam Newton.
The Bears field the NFLs best scoring defense, both at preventing other peoples (13 points per game, seven or fewer in three of six games) and doing it themselves (five defensive TDs). The Carolina Panthers are 28th in scoring.
No team has taken the ball away from opposing offenses more than the Bears (21). Only four teams have a worse turnover ratio than the Panthers minus-6
Whither the run?
The thing the Panthers purport and are built to do best is run the ball. But they have match the millions invested in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams with anything resembling a coherent offensive philosophy or even game plans.
Newton has taken the heaviest criticism for offensive failures. But in the five-point loss to Dallas last Sunday, Panthers running backs carried a total of 15 times, even with Carolina leading through most of the fourth quarter.
In the four-point loss to Seattle, Carolinas three running backs had a total of 11 carries in game where the Panthers took a lead early in the third quarter.
Curiously, the Panthers see to be in some sort of denial.
For the most part, weve handed the ball off an awful lot to those two guys Stewart and Williams,said coach Ron Rivera. I think what we do people dont get as well. A lot of the things we did last year we had success with and this year and people have changed and adapted to what we do, and were trying to adapt as well, so we stay a step ahead.
Weve had some things weve struggled with, obviously, and there are some things we want to get back to.
If the Panthers move to get back to their run game, the Bears will be waiting. They are second in run defense (71.3 yards per game), which has forced teams to become one-dimensional, and that has led to turnovers.
Smith wild card
The Panthers may follow form and come at the Bears primarily with one weapon that has done severe damage to Chicago in the past: wide receiver Steve Smith.
Smith has caught 34 passes in three games against the Bears, beginning with the 2005 regular season, the 2005 divisional playoff and finally last season.
He's a smaller guy but he plays big, said cornerback Charles Tillman, who won his matchup against Detroits Calvin Johnson last Monday but is likely to have duties other than Smith, expected to be shadowed by Tim Jennings. He's a nightmare to defenses, and this will be another good matchup for this defense.
But the Bears won two of those three games, and Rivera was the Bears defensive coordinator in the first two. The defense would be more than fine with Smith getting his 11 or so catches; theyll take the win.
Every coverage has been tried against him, said coach Lovie Smith. But you have to have a plan for him, and we do.

Buckeyes going back to College Football Playoff, will face Clemson in Fiesta Bowl

Buckeyes going back to College Football Playoff, will face Clemson in Fiesta Bowl

The College Football Playoff field is set, and for the second time in three years, the Ohio State Buckeyes will compete for a national championship.

The selection committee revealed the four-team field for this season's Playoff, with Ohio State coming at No. 3. The Buckeyes will battle No. 2 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. The other Playoff semifinal pits No. 1 Alabama against No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl.

While Ohio State has been considered one of the best teams in the country throughout the season, the Buckeyes' inclusion in the Playoff field is not without controversy, as they are the first team to play in the Playoff without winning their conference championship. But Ohio State had a sterling resume with three wins over top-10 teams: Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. The Buckeyes' lone loss came against a top-10 Penn State team.

The 2014 national champion, Ohio State returns to the Playoff after missing out last season. Big Ten champion Michigan State represented the conference last year, getting crushed by Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Two years ago, the Buckeyes beat the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl and then beat the Oregon Ducks in the national championship game.

Big Ten champion Penn State, which won the conference title game Saturday night with an instant-classic comeback victory over Wisconsin, ended up fifth and was left off the bracket. So too was sixth-ranked Michigan, which didn't compete for a conference championship but was ranked fifth in the final set of rankings prior to Sunday's bracket reveal. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines combined for five wins over top-10 teams this season.

There was plenty of conversation that red-hot Penn State could surge into the Playoff, just like Ohio State did two years ago. The Lions are riding a nine-game winning streak, defeated Ohio State earlier in the season and claimed the championship in what has been the hands-down best conference in college football this season. And boy did they impress Saturday night in their most recent showing, erasing a three-touchdown deficit to come back and beat Wisconsin.

Michigan, too, had a mighty compelling case to make. The Wolverines, owners of one of the best defenses in the country all season long, beat three top-10 teams during the regular season and took the No. 2 team in the country to double overtime just last weekend.

But in the end, we did not get the first Playoff field to feature two teams from the same conference. Penn State and Michigan will learn their bowl fates — likely going to New Year's Six bowl games — later Sunday.

Big Ten poll update: Penn State jumps Michigan in last pre-Playoff AP poll

Big Ten poll update: Penn State jumps Michigan in last pre-Playoff AP poll

The College Football Playoff selection committee will reveal the four-team Playoff field shortly, but in the AP poll, Big Ten champion Penn State did vault ahead of Michigan.

The Nittany Lions, fresh off their instant-classic comeback win in Saturday night's Big Ten title game, jumped up three spots, from No. 8 to No. 5, passing the Wolverines, who dropped from No. 5 to No. 6 with no game to play this weekend.

Who knows if that will be the thinking of the committee or if Penn State's performance Saturday was impressive enough to get it above Washington or Clemson and into the final four.

In the AP poll Sunday, Ohio State checked in at No. 2 behind No. 1 Alabama. The Buckeyes didn't play Saturday either, but those top two spots figure to be how the top two spots of the Playoff field will look. Clemson and Washington stayed the Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the poll, which seems to be a likely possibility in the Playoff, as well.

Wisconsin, defeated by Penn State on Saturday night, dropped just two spots from No. 6 to No. 8, jumped by Penn State and Oklahoma, which was victorious in its regular-season finale against Oklahoma State, claiming the Big 12 championship in the process.

Iowa moved up one spot from No. 22 to No. 21, while Nebraska dropped a spot from No. 23 to No. 24. Neither team played this weekend.